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Lawn & Garden

How do birds like to eat?

5/24/2012 - West Side Leader
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By Emily Chesnic

There are three main types of bird feeders: The platform feeder, tube-style feeder and hopper feeder (shown above). There also are other feeders that attract specific birds, including liquid reservoir feeders for hummingbirds (shown below), suet feeders for woodpeckers, fruit feeders for robins and insect feeders for bluebirds and other birds.
Photos courtesy of MetroCreativeConnection
Building on the Ask Dayle question about wild birdseed, here is some additional information about birds and their preferred bird feeder styles and the care and maintenance of bird feeders.

Overall, there are three types of bird feeders for seeds: The platform feeder, tube-style feeder and hopper feeder. Besides these feeders, there are also other special-style feeders that attract specific birds. These feeders include liquid reservoir feeds for hummingbirds, suet feeders for woodpeckers, fruit feeders for robins and even insect feeders for bluebirds, among other birds.

Platforms feeders are open trays usually framed in wood or plastic with a mesh floor that birdseed is spread upon. They hold a large amount of bird seed that is exposed to the elements. Sometimes platforms are covered by a roof to help keep seed dry. Sunflower seed is a good choice to use with platform feeders since there is less chance of this larger-sized seed blowing away in the wind. All sizes of birds are attracted to platform feeders, generally, but platforms are especially favored by birds such as cardinals that prefer to graze openly on a flat surface.

Platform feeders are quickly emptied by foraging birds because the entire food source is exposed and not accessed through openings. This minor inconvenience is greatly offset by a great variety of bird species that visit this type of feeder.

Tube-style feeders are thin, vertical, cylindrical structures that hold birdseed and are typically constructed of plastic with metal components at the top and bottom to hold the structure together. The shape of tube feeders discourages larger birds from perching and eating. There are small openings along the cylinder for access to the seed and a small post for perching underneath each one. Sometimes the openings are framed in metal to discourage squirrels chewing away the plastic edges of the openings. Smaller birds are attracted to tube-style feeders. Lots of songbirds, especially, will visit if you put out tube feeders. Tube-style feeders are slower to empty than platform or hopper feeders.

Hopper feeders look somewhat like bird houses and serve as a holding tank or reservoir for a large quantity of birdseed. Hoppers can be metal, wood or plastic. The seeds in a hopper last longer than on a platform feeder because the entire stock of food is not exposed; there are openings from which birds extract the seed. Similar to platform feeders, a wide variety of birds of nearly every size are attracted to hopper feeders.

Besides the feeders mentioned above, there are other, special-style feeders to attract specific birds. Here are few specialty feeders, among others:

• Nectar feeders for hummingbirds and orioles. (Orioles require large ports for large bills.) Nectar is a sugar solution easily mixed using one part sugar to four parts water. After combining the sugar and water, boil it for a few minutes to sterilize. It is extremely important to thoroughly clean and disinfect nectar feeders every few days using hot water to prevent mold.

• Suet feeders: Suet is rendered animal fat and attracts birds who like to eat insects such as woodpeckers, wrens, chickadees, nuthatches, bluebirds and titmice. It is usually sold in cakes that can be suspended in mesh bags or wire cages from plant hanger hooks. Suet is especially valuable nutrition in the wintertime. It is prone to melting, so purchase melt-resistant suet varieties in warmer weather.

Also, when mixed with berries, pieces of fruit and peanut butter, suet will attract a variety of fruit-loving birds such as orioles, robins, mockingbirds, catbirds, tanagers, cedar waxwings and bluebirds.

• Thistle feeders: This feeder is also tubular, but the openings in the cylinder are mere slits with perches above, rather than below, each slit. Goldfinches will flock to a feeder in droves when thistle seed is offered. It’s a lot of fun to watch the goldfinches eat because they perch upside down when feeding.

Personally, I don’t offer thistle seed in my yard anymore. It may be coincidence, but once too often the rate of thistle plants sprouting in my garden in summer was in direct proportion to the number of seed lovers munching at my thistle feeders the previous winter.

• Fruit feeders: Offer a variety of fruits on a platform and slices of fruit skewered on sticks. Display this offering in a place out of reach of cats, dogs and other foraging wildlife.

Keep fruit feeders and seed feeders separated. Birds with different menu preferences tend to not want to share space with those who eat dissimilar foods.

Clean the feeders on a regular schedule to reduce the spread of disease and keep them in good repair.

Also, if you are going to feed birds, be sure to also provide birdhouses, birdbaths and natural habitat for cover, such as shrubs and trees. Generally, you want to place bird feeders and birdbaths in the yard where you can easily view them. Have a field guide on hand and, of course, a good pair of binoculars within reach.

Likewise, keep birdhouses clean and in good repair. However, do not disturb birdhouses during the nesting season.

Similar to hummingbird feeders, keep birdbaths even more scrupulously clean to prevent spread of disease. Change the water frequently, if not daily. Scrub and disinfect during periods of high traffic.

Dayle Davis is a freelance writer and avid perennial gardener, with a B.A. in communications and coursework in botany, geology and wildflowers. Davis is certified as a Master Gardener under The Ohio State University’s Horticultural Extension.

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